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This book drew me in to review it. I could not have delayed it if I wanted to. Morris Micklewhite likes his home, pancakes, and lots of things at school, including a tangerine colored dress from the dress up box. He loves the way the tangerine dress makes him think of “the sun, tigers and his mother’s hair.” He puts the tangerine dress on over his pants and black and white striped shirt, and tries different, dressy, heeled shoes from the dress up box on. Morris likes the sound the dress makes when he walks, has a favorite pair of dress shoes that make the sound “click,click, click,” enjoys his nails painted by his mom, but does not like the way boys and girls bully him at school because of the dress.
The text deals accurately with the realistic, antagonistic responses that both girls and boys have to non-conforming gender performance amongst their peers, with girls trying to pull the dress off of Morris’ body, boys excluding him from their games, and both genders verbally taunting him. Isabelle Malenfant’s pen and ink illustrations depthfully present each character’s many layered emotions and Morris’ purposeful, powerful, and vulnerable actions throughout the narrative.
Morris retreats to his home for a few days, taking refuge in his mom’s nurturing, books, puzzles, his cat and his dream. When he returns to school, he carries a painting of his dream with him, and when the boys refuse to allow him entry to their cardboard space ship, he builds one of his own. When the girls try to take the dress from him again, Morris stands up for his right to wear the tangerine dress until he is finished with it. Then, the boys who like the space ship Morris has built better than the one they built, allow Morris to lead him with his imagination and get to know him as an inventive, exploring fellow kid whose fun quotient is more important than the idea that he could change them into girls.
The winning moment of this book after we go through Morris’ journey of social challenges and self acceptance is his self-confidence, expressed in the affirmative exchange he has with a little girl in his class named Becky.
When Becky snips, “Boys don’t wear dresses.”
Morris responds, “This boy does.”
And there he goes. Morris you have the right to be you.
Whether the child you read to, or who reads this, is gender conforming or non-conforming in their play, every child will be able to understand the emotional and psycho-physio pain they have in response to being bullied and not accepted, feeling the need to step away from all peers for a little while to take a rest from bullying, and the importance of their imagination to serve as a self-soothing coping mechanism; the power of their imagination to bring them joy and instill in them a sense of pride in themselves where they may have suffered from the jabs of other children. While the standard formula often works well, one of the unique things about this book as compared to others about bullying or intolerance from children is that there are no proactive adults involved in this children’s dispute. The protagonist and his peers work out their relationships on their own– a plot choice that models independence and self-reliance for the young reader. Without Morris or the narrator saying it, the story conveys the universal message of “I can do.” to readers. (buy)
Recommendation: Highly recommended 3+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Grace has a limitless imagination. Like many of the children who will read this story, she likes to dress up as any character she has ever seen or can imagine from spiders to pirates. When her teacher announces that the class is going to stage “Peter Pan”, Grace wants to play the lead role of Peter despite the fact that two of her classmates tell her she can’t play Peter because he is a boy and he’s white. Grace who lives with her single mother and grandmother goes home sad, and her mom and grandmother assure her that she can play Peter if she wants. Grace memorizes Peter Pan’s lines and Grandma even takes her to the ballet to see an Afro-Trinidadian friend of the family play Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet”. Grace wins the part of Peter and does an amazing job playing the role. Every child with an imagination will connect with Grace. Children of single mothers or parents who get tired but still make time to play will see themselves reflected in Grace’s family. My 3-year-old expected the story to continue so the fullness of the story arc will register more with readers instead of pre-literate children.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 6-9
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
This is the coolest story book, exceptional in that dialogue is plentiful—it is full of the realistic conversation that goes on between children and their peers as well as the adults in their lives. Nate has to decide what to be for the Purim Celebration at his synagogue but more importantly, he has to decide whether to be himself—a boy who wants to dress up as an alien— or a follower of the crowd. The crowd in this case is the group of boys in his Hebrew class who are dressing as superheroes. His fathers encourage him to be strong enough to be himself and he comes up with a surprise costume that makes him feel like he is true to himself and will be welcome with the boys in his class. I thought we would get through this entire story without discussing the way in which Nate’s family is different but ultimately as a part of the conversation encouraging Nate to be himself, he and his fathers make a reference to his fathers’ dedication to being their true self. However, conversation over his fathers being two dads instead of a mom and dad does not take up much space in this lovely story about an elementary child’s apprehension over being different from the group and the imaginative solution he finds to restore his confidence. A lovely story for every child who at some point will want to resist peer pressure to express him/herself.
Recommendation: Recommended; ages 4-7
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda